A high-school dropout living with his alcoholic mother. A volatile World War II veteran struggling to assimilate to his old life. A viscously driven oil man looking to turn his fortune around. The films of Paul Thomas Anderson may differ in plot and setting, but his characters all seem to be united in their desperate hunt for change. Some transform for the best, others for the worst, and it’s where this need for change develops and how it drives our character’s sense of self that Anderson’s filmography is obsessed with.
In an incredible new video essay, published by Jack’s Movie Reviews earlier this month (via The Film Stage), Anderson’s exploration of change and purpose is put under a microscope and explored thoroughly. “Everybody has a chance to change their lives,” the essays explains about Anderson’s characters. “The hand that life deals you isn’t the one that you have to play for the rest of your life.”
Whether it’s Daniel Plainview, Barry Egan or Freddie Quell, Anderson’s protagonists find their purpose in life through change, often guided by the relationships they form with surrogate families. It’s through this change that redemption is possible, but not all of Anderson’s characters are pure enough to see it through. Part of what makes his characters so endlessly complex is not how or why they strive for change, but how their egos, selfhood and delusion prevent them from reaching it.
With Anderson currently in production on his new movie, which stars Daniel Day Lewis and is expected to be released by Focus Features sometime this fall, now couldn’t be a better time to explore the unifying theme of Anderson’s oeuvre. Check out the video embedded below, or bookmark it for later. It’s an essential watch for any Anderson lover.